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Institute of Advanced Study

Past Events

IAS Fellow's Seminar - Crossing the threshold of concern: emergence as an affective assemblage

16th February 2015, 13:00 to 14:00, IAS Seminar Room, Palace Green, Dr Martin Coward (Newcastle University)


This seminar will explore the way in which everyday objects emerge as a shared concern. The concept of emergence captures the transition of objects from a mundane, unremarked existence to being the focus of attention. Drawing on both phenomenology and complexity thinking, Dr Martin Coward wants to explore the way in which security discourses reveal the role of affective thresholds in this emergence of objects of shared concern. Much of our understanding of discourses of security focuses on the way in which political actors can construct a compelling narrative of existential threat that elevates an object up the agenda of concern. We could refer to this elevation as crossing a threshold of concern. In crossing this threshold an object emerges as part of a security discourse – a specific set of relationships between that which is taken to threaten, that which is threatened and that which is said to be vulnerable. In doing so everyday objects – pylons, wires, pipes – are elevated from banal mundane existence to positions of discursive concern. However, this story of emergence neglects the role played by the audience at which any security discourse is aimed. It is striking that political actors often assume that the threshold of concern will resonate with a wider audience. How and why does the elevation of infrastructural objects to objects of security concern resonate with wider publics? This seminar will explore whether we can understand this resonance in terms of an affective atmosphere – a complex structure of feeling in which an audience senses a shared attachment to, and vulnerability through, particular objects. Roads, for example, simultaneously imply a shared existence in a particular territorial domain, the importance of mobility to that shared way of life and (insofar as they can be disrupted) a mutual vulnerability. This seminar will explore the way in which objects must resonate with such affective atmospheres in order to cross a threshold of concern. In doing so Dr Coward hopes to recast the idea of emergence as a key moment in security discourses.

Fellows' seminars take place on Monday lunchtimes in the seminar room at Cosin's Hall.

Places are limited and so any academic colleagues interested in attending a seminar should contact the Institute in advance to reserve a place.

The aim of these seminars is to develop new thinking on the big issues that are of current concern/interest for the Fellows . Each Fellow is asked to present a core idea that informs their current work, or a problem that they are tackling, that could benefit from cross-disciplinary thinking. These seminars are informal and designed to encourage discussion.

Contact enquiries.ias@durham.ac.uk for more information about this event.